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Thoughts on SparringBy John Scully
Vinny Paz is a guy who destroys that old fable that Philadelphia has the best gym wars. You hear all the so-called boxing experts, and especially the Philly fighters, repeatedly talk up the legendary "Philly Sparring sessions," like they somehow box with more intensity within the city limits of Philadelphia. That's nonsense, seriously. I have been to Vinny's Gym in Providence, Rhode Island, many times, and this guy loves the hard sparring. The first time we sparred was in 1991, while were both getting ready for fights. I was preparing to fight a really cagey veteran named Randy Smith, and Vinny was going to be boxing Gilbert Dele for the WBA junior-middleweight title just four days after my fight.
The first time we sparred, I don't think Vinny even knew who I was or had heard of me. He said we could do four rounds. Fighters have a way of talking to each other that only they understand. Almost always after a round, the two boxers will touch gloves. Kind of a little tap. But Vinny and I were both throwing punches so hard and fast, every time the bell rang, we would both do the same thing: Stop quickly (like we were slamming on the brakes), look at each other for a couple moments, and then bang gloves with each other really hard. I am sure, judging from his body language, that he was thinking the same thing I was: "I wish that round didn't end!"
After the fourth round, he was like, "Oh, man, you think you can go a couple more? I was thinking, Man, this is what I live for. After that day, I'd to go to him very often and the sparring was always fun. Vinny was the type of guy who, if you were catching him with good shots, would bang his face with his gloves and yell, "Yeah! Come on!" He was not a terribly hard puncher, in the truest sense, but his overhand right, like the one he caught Dana Rosenblatt with, was an attention-getter if it got through. His left hook to the body was his best and most effective punch.
Another thing many fans don't realize about Paz was that he could box when he really wanted to. Usually he loved to really get into it and just trade big shots. But when he decided to use his legs and use the ring, he could move very well and jump in with nice, quick shots. If you have never seen the WBA 154-pound championship fight he had in 1991 with Gilbert Dele, you should find it. That was a beautiful display of boxing. As for us, we sparred so many rounds that I lost count. I sparred with him quite a bit between 1991 and 1995. If I could name a few guys that I would love to still spar with on a regular basis, Vinny Paz would be near the top of the list.
Sometimes you end up using sparring as a way of establishing yourself in the eyes of other boxers. Sometimes sparring can get tedious, but then something will happen, and all of a sudden you sill get juiced up mentally and physically enough that it turns into something more than just everyday sparring. Sometimes you might get a guy that takes the sparring a little too seriously. There is a kid here in Connecticut that I have sparred with a few times. An amateur 201 pounder, about 23 years old or so. A local amateur kid, not a national-level kid or a guy you would have ever heard of. One time we sparred at my gym in Hartford for four uneventful rounds. A few days later a friend of mine asked me if I'd sparred with this kid the other day. I said yes, and he said, "Yeah, because he was at my gym saying he dominated you."
Man, see, that kind of thing is irritating. If I spar with a good guy and we're going at it and it's serious sparring, and then he says, "Yeah, I did good with Ice," then I have no problem. But when some amateur kid comes in and I do him a favor by working with him for a few rounds, and then he starts talking stuff about it? Like we are even on the same level? Well, that's not cool. There is certain etiquette I like to follow. It's times like that when I want to say, "Ohhh, you wanna talk about what you did? How about we get to the gym one day and go at it for 10 rounds with no headgear?" Since that day, I have sparred with this kid four more times. I stopped him five times: three times with body shots and twice with head shots. The last time, I hit him with such a vicious double hook to the body that if he hadn't gone down, I would have been surprised.
Now, it's not any kind of notch in my belt to say that I stopped this guy so bad that he lost all the air in his body and his trainer had to come in the ring and get him up on all fours so he could try to regain his composure. Stopping him these times doesn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, because I am a professional and he is an amateur. He is bigger than me; he's a strong kid that trains well to fight. But still, stopping him like that is not a big deal. (For him, it will just go under the heading "A Lesson learned.") But what you have to understand is, in the gyms, boxers take all aspects of the sparring very seriously. Having a guy spout off about how he did this or that to you in the gym is an open invitation to go to war every time from then on out that we spar.
I was getting ready to fight Art Baylis at Foxwoods Casino in a 10-round fight. I was really physically worn down from all the intense training, and on my last day of sparring, I worked with two good amateurs, a 156 pounder and a 178 pounder. The way I was feeling that day, the 156 pounder was too fast for me and the 178 was too strong. He manhandled me and pushed me all over the ring. I didn't panic, though, because I knew I had been working hard, and my body was ready to be rested for my fight. I rested for the next few days and fought the fight, winning a 10-round decision. I looked as good as I ever has as a professional boxer.
Now, in the weeks after the fight, I begin hearing how this amateur light heavyweight was pushing me around, banging me up, etc. Apparently his trainer was one of these guys that has boxers and when they had a good day in the gym they made sure everybody knew about it. Apparently, from what I was hearing, they had all of a sudden decided to have this kid get ready to turn pro. I assume that because he did really well sparring with me that day, and because he was a strong and rugged kid, they figured he was pro material. So I requested that they come back to the gym and spar again. The next time we sparred I took it very seriously and I made sure to rest up the night before.
The sparring started, and I came out with what Cus D'Amato called bad intentions. I was very focused on doing damage and I remember finding a home for my right uppercut. At one point in the second round, I hit this kid so hard with an uppercut that he slightly wobbled. Normally, in sparring you would ease back a bit at this point. But my competitive spirit took over, and I hit him over and over with right uppercuts until he started to sag. Finally the trainer started yelling for me to stop, but all that did was make me want to hit him harder and more often. And I did. Just about knocked him out standing up, only his trainer coming into the ring and holding him up stopped him from falling. Sometimes sparring can get out of hand. But I like it like that.
When I was an amateur, I weighed 165 pounds and used to spar with a 139 pounder that was particularly tough. Every time we sparred he would taunt me and say, "That's all you got?" So this one day, he starts talking stuff to me and I am hitting him harder and harder, trying to hurt him, and he keeps talking and I keep hitting him harder and harder. He was one of these guys that when you hit him with a good shot, he would drop his hands and say, "Come on, hit me harder!" Then, all of sudden, I landed a really good right hand, and he kind of stiffened up a little bit. It was crazy -- I saw that, and I smelled blood. I started hitting him harder and harder, the trainer was yelling, "Stop, stop!"
But I was in a frenzy, throwing punches as fast and as hard as I could. I saw that he was hurt and beginning to fall, but something took me over inside and I couldn't stop myself. I didn't stop punching until he was down and out and his coach was in the ring pulling me away. A couple guys from the gym had to pick him up and carry him to the bathroom and pour cold water on his face and body to revive him. Now, you might think that caused a rift in our friendship, but this is boxing and the gym. It was a vicious incident but, honestly, it had no ill effect on our friendship, and to this day we are good friends. It was just something that happened in the gym, accepted between two boxers. For him, it was a lesson learned.
Another couple of really good sessions I had in the gym were at the old Times Square Gym in New York City. It was June 1992 and Lamar Parks was getting ready for a fight at Madison Square Garden. I drove the two hours to NYC and went to 42nd Street and Broadway, where the gym was located. I loved that gym! It was right in the heart of Manhattan, on the second floor of an old building with a giant window that had the ring right next to it, so people walking along 42nd Street could look up and see you sparring. The gym looked just like something out of those old black-and-white boxing movies. It was rundown and dirty. Hot and sweaty. Old fight posters all over the walls. Grimy. Just the way I loved it. I had fought and fought and defeated Lamar twice as amateurs, but now we were both pros, and Lamar was undefeated at the time. We had remained friendly since our amateur days.
I remember they asked me how many rounds I wanted to do, and I told them as many as they wanted was fine with me. One thing that I really remember about our eight rounds of sparring that day was that Lamar had big power. When we fought as amateurs, I knew he had power, but back then I boxed and moved a lot more. I didn't give him much of a target and, especially in our second fight, he really didn't hit me very much, so I couldn't say if he was really a big hitter or not. But like I said before, when guys are in the gym they are more relaxed and likely to take more punches. As a pro I had developed a peek-a-boo-type style for a while, kind of like a Marlon Starling thing, where I would walk right to my opponent with my hands up and I would catch the punches on my gloves, arms, and elbows. Often I was able to wear guys out with that style because they would waste so much energy trying to get through my defense, and then by the time they realized they were not catching me flush, it was too late. They were already tired. This was exactly the strategy I used to defeat Lamar in our rematch.
Anyway, in the gym that day, I remember I threw a couple right hands at Lamar, and he sneakily leaned back away from the right hand and let a whip of a left hook go. I recognized this immediately as the check hook taught by Big Roy (Roy Jones' dad). Lamar had often trained with Jones in Pensacola and been in the gym with Lil' Roy and Big Roy. The sparring was really good because I was coming right to Lamar, making him fight me hard while he was trying to counter and load up with big shots. I kept my hands high so I could deflect the shots with my arms, elbows, and gloves. Lamar Parks was not the guy you wanted catching you flush.
I remember everybody in the gym was outside the ring looking in and watching, and when the bell rang to end the eighth and final sparring round, they all applauded! Like it was a real fight and a good fight. You don't see that too often, especially in a gym like that. I remember former champion "Sweet" Saoul Mamby was there, and he was applauding too. Afterwards different people were telling me, "Man, nobody does eight rounds like with Lamar Parks; that's why he doesn't get any sparring here that often." That motivated me. I came back the next day and we did it again. (Of all the times I've ever gone somewhere to spar with someone, Lamar was the only one who called me afterwards to say thank you.)
For information on John Scully's upcoming book, contact him at IceJohnScully@aol.com
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